LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Papa John’s and Simmons College in Kentucky are blaming each other after someone decided to pull scholarships for 10 Simmons students.
Who made the decision isn’t clear. Papa John’s said Simmons College made the call. Simmons said it was Papa John’s that revoked the $2,000 scholarships.
The dispute comes one week after John Schnatter, the pizza chain’s founder and former CEO, gave the school a $1 million donation.
The Rev. Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons, said in a statement that he was informed Wednesday by an executive at Papa John’s that “scholarships promised to our students were being revoked” because of Schnatter’s donation.
“It felt as though someone has taken weapons of mass destruction and flown them into the hopes and dreams and aspirations of some of America’s most vulnerable students,” Cosby said.
However, in a Sept. 3 email obtained by The Courier Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, Simmons’ director of development, Von Purdy, tells Natonya Harbison, Papa John’s director of supplier diversity, that the school chose not to accept the scholarships.
“Thank you for our discussions on how to help support the students of Simmons College of Kentucky,” Purdy said in the email. “In light of recent news, it is best to decline your scholarships at this time and perhaps look at other ways to partner in the future.”
But Simmons spokeswoman Krystal Goodner said Purdy sent that email because of pressure from Papa John’s chief of diversity, equity and inclusion, Victoria Russell.
Just hours before Purdy sent the email, Schnatter announced that he would be giving a “financial gift and commitment” to Kentucky’s only private historically black college and university.
Part of the $1 million donation, which was presented Sept. 4, will go to build a lodging facility at a Baptist retreat center in Louisville.
Goodner said Russell and Papa John’s “felt uncomfortable” at the news of Schnatter’s donation and communicated to Purdy on Sept. 3 that the company did not want to give the scholarships at the time.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Purdy said she meant to say “delay” the scholarships instead of “decline.”
“In order to appease the relationship and to keep the $20,000 on the table, but delayed, I sent that email,” Purdy said.
On Wednesday, Cosby contacted Russell about the possibility of receiving the scholarships in the future, according to Goodner. The Simmons spokeswoman said Russell told Cosby the offer was “off the table.”
“We did not at all, and we would never, turn any monies away geared toward our students,” Goodner said.
At Simmons, 77% of students receive financial aid, according to Purdy. With tuition and fees roughly $6,000 per year, this scholarship could have paid for one-third of that price for 10 students.
Goodner said Simmons will work to ensure that the 10 students who were promised scholarships receive $2,000 in the future.
Papa John’s spokeswoman Madeline Chadwick said that the claim the company took away scholarships is “absolutely false” and that Papa John’s is committed to the communities it serves.
“We were disappointed when the administration of Simmons College unexpectedly told us last week they would not move forward with the scholarship program we had offered in good faith,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick declined to comment when asked about Goodner’s account of the interaction between Purdy and Russell.
Meanwhile, Tyler Anderson, a spokesman for Schnatter, said Schnatter did not give any stipulations to Simmons when he gave the $1 million gift and he hoped it would trigger more donations to the college.
Schnatter’s gift comes a little more than a year after he used a racial slur on a conference call that led to his ouster.
In the wake of his offensive comment, Schnatter has fervently defended his reputation – previously telling The Courier Journal that black people know “I’m not a racist.”